Dance Camera West Festival Heads to Downtown L.A. This Weekend

Andrea Sudorova and Jan Sevcik

The performance-filled event takes place this weekend at The Disney Concert Hall's REDCAT Theater, with an opening night performance at The Music Center Plaza by contemporary dance company Bodytraffic.

The Dance Camera West Dance Media Film Festival has been the premier event of its kind since its 2002 inception. But this year, executive director Tonia Barber has titled it “Restructure,” reflecting what is likely to be a game changer for the four-day fete.

The majority of the event takes place this weekend at The Disney Concert Hall’s REDCAT Theater, but the festival doesn’t officially close until next Friday with a climactic dance-a-long screening of La Bamba at Union Station. By that time they will have screened 25 films representing 34 countries. They will also have hosted three free dance performances in nearby Grand Park and The Music Center Plaza, representing a multi-disciplinary morphing of the event, continuing a trend established last year.

“We are in one location, downtown,” Barber tells The Hollywood Reporter about the transformative decision to center the festival geographically. Last year’s fest -- which took place at LACMA, The Getty and The Music Center -- drew 7,000 visitors, a number Barber expects to top. “It’s a little walking festival. You can see a live performance across the street, go to MOCA, see a film, go have something to eat, see another performance at Grand Park. Festivals are about destination and downtown Los Angeles has become a true destination.”

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Opening night will feature a performance at The Music Center Plaza by L.A.-based contemporary dance company Bodytraffic on a large-scale sculpture by artist Gustovo Godoy that was co-commissioned for the event by the festival and the Music Center. On Saturday night, Grand Park will host an homage to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring entitled Prite Oef Stringh by L.A. Contemporary Dance Company, and Sunday afternoon will include a repeat of Bodytraffic’s performance.

Dance Camera West has always held a significant place among dance fans, hosting the West Coast premiers of titles like Pina, Dancing in Jaffa and more recently, Afternoon of a Faun. As a former dancer with the Joffrey Ballet and producer of several documentaries, Barber has one foot planted firmly in both disciplines. As such she’s quick to calm any fears filmmakers have that their work will be overshadowed by an increasing focus on performance.

“The festival is really moving into a interdisciplinary kind of field but we still are mostly committed to film,” Barber emphasizes, noting that performances do not coincide with screenings. “Film is what the festival is built on but we’re definitely bringing in a lot more different elements of dance than just primarily film.”

That comes as good news to filmmakers like Greg Vanderveer and Rina Mehta whose movies will screen this weekend.

“These types of festivals are really important,” says Vanderveer, whose Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter focuses on Martha Hill, a modern dance pioneer who established dance programs at Vermont’s Bennington College and later Julliard. “Dance Camera West has this long history of bringing in the right audience, so I can feel comfortable that it’s going to get the right attention from the press and the right people are going to be there to see it and appreciate it.”

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Mehta, executive producer of UPAJ: Improvise, a documentary about the collaboration between Indian Kathak dancer Chitresh Das and American tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith, is hoping for a TV distribution deal.

“The film has been a great launching pad for the art form cause the medium of film allows people getting to know the stories behind these artists,” she says of the reaction to her film at numerous festivals. “It’s bringing audiences into the process and into the back story and into the lives of these artists in a whole different way that a stage show can’t.”

With the added performance pieces, Barber sees an emerging esthetic tied specifically to Los Angeles. She sums it up with one word – sunshine. It’s what brought photographers, artists and of course, filmmakers to this dusty stretch of orange groves by the sea for over a hundred years.

“Some of the things we’ve been working on this year could not have happened anywhere else but L.A., basically due to the weather,” says Barber, who lived in New York City for 16 years. “Even with all the heartbreak of Hollywood, you still have the sun to lean on.”